Euro 2022: a lesson in equality

‘The times they are a-changing’.

Gary Lineker, the ubiquitous sports presenter, has recalled that when he was playing one rarely saw a woman’s face in the crowd at a professional football game. Yet on Wednesday, July 6, the Women’s Euro 2022 football competition kicks off when England play Austria at Old Trafford, Manchester. While the men’s World Cup will be played in Qatar later this year, it is noticeable that no Arab countries will he participating in the ladies event.

That detail brings into stark contrast the difference between those countries which share an Islamic culture, and those which enjoy the benefits of a Christian heritage.

When the takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabian owner was announced, many questioned whether they were fit and proper persons to own a British football club. After all Saudi Arabia has a questionable human rights record, with women firmly kept in subjection and mass executions held in public.

Rev David Clarke

The human rights industry finds its basis in the biblical book of Genesis, and its declaration that human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1;27), something which gives to every human a unique value. And that description applies to women as to men. Admittedly, not all have been able to embrace that truth. While the Bible records noble and heroic women such as Deborah, Hannah and Esther many Jews regarded women as distinctly inferior. Until relatively recent times a prayer in Orthodox Judaism ran; ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who hast not made me a woman’.

Jesus was a great champion of womanhood. Three of the gospel writers record the story of the woman who anointed him with costly ointment; and how he sprang to her defence when others criticised her extravagance. In John’s gospel we read of his long conversation with a Samaritan woman, a conversation which even his friends found startling, for they marvelled that he was talking with a woman. In the same gospel, we see how he came to the defence of a woman taken in adultery, exposing the hypocrisy of her accusers by demanding, ‘Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’ (John 8;1-11). Even from the cross he showed his care for his mother. Small wonder that women were last at the Cross and first at the tomb.

The early Christian church gloried in the fact that in its membership ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3;28). The Women’s Euro 2022 competition is bound to be exciting.

We wish the Northern Ireland team well. But whatever the outcome, the competition itself shows the triumph of Christian ideals, in the recognition of equal rights.

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